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HTPC build for parents

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
I'm thinking of building an HTPC for my parents as a birthday/ fathers day present. However, I don't know much about any form factor smaller than ATX, so I'm hoping you guys can help me out.

The first thing is that my parents aren't the best with computers. It would need some easy interface so that I wouldn't constantly be showing them how to do stuff. If they can't easily figure it out, it will end up collecting dust.
So, to that end, I would need some software that's pretty easy to use and find all the local and streaming content, and also some sort of remote. This is the thing that I'm pretty much completely in the dark on.

Next is the hardware. I'm pretty adept at the hardware side, but I'm not at all sure of what sort of specs the computer should have. It needs to be able to smoothly decode 1080p video.
CPU/mobo/ram- ? ITX of MATX? How strong of a CPU does it need? How much can be offloaded to GPU?
GPU- see above
HDD- Will a 2 TB green work well enough for the OS? I would rather not have to use a separate OS drive and storage drive.
Connectivity- HDMI video and optical audio preferably

Price- I'm hoping for ~$200, how achievable is that?

edit: after a bit of research, I'm wondering about what socket I should go with. I could go with an older dual e5xxx LGA775 processor and save money on the CPU/motherboard. I am planning on doing some light gaming on the computer (race seat + HDTV + Richard Burns Rally = excellent). Should I be shying away from using integrated GPUs? I've had issues with intel graphics drivers in the past (can't play Worms Armageddon on my buddy's laptop), so I'm thinking an older CPU with a decent (~8600 GT perf. level) discrete GPU might be better.
Edited by angrysasquatch - 5/20/11 at 5:22pm
    
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post #2 of 12
Either go with the Pentium G620 Sandy Bridge (should be available by next week) or the Athlon II X2 250 or wait for Llano in June (when is Fathers' Day?). Bonus, with Llano, you don't even need a separate GPU for light gaming. Intel integrated graphics isn't really all that awful nowadays. However, Intel's graphic drivers leave a lot to be desired and that's what mostly causes glitches, etc in/with games. It's really not worth sticking to LGA-775 at this point in time unless you find some really good combo deals (e.g. G41 MB + Celeron E3300 for $40 @ Fry's).

If you wanna go cheap, microATX is your best option. If you live near a MicroCenter check out their MB/CPU combo's. They've got some 785G + Phenom II/Athlon II combos for less than $100. The integrated HD 3200 graphics on the the 785G should be close to 6600 GT level.

Yes, a green drive should work well enough for the OS. The outer portion of the platters are pretty fast. Just create a separate smaller partition for the OS (around 40-80GB). That should help prevent slowdowns as the drive gets filled up.

However, $200 is going to be a stretch, unless you have old parts you can re-use. As it is, the 2TB drive will already eat up a sizeable chunk of your budget.
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post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
I put this together. Basically e3400 + GT430

http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?sku=49093
http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...0&promoid=1324
http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?sku=38128
http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?sku=48813
http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?sku=60345
http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...6&promoid=1324
http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?sku=56230

Total: $421.11

edit: almost forgot, I have a 4870 just sitting around collecting dust. Although it will need a pretty big case, it should be pretty quiet with a custom fan profile and underclock, and it will chomp up the piddly integrated GPUs. There is also a mid tower case from my brother's old computer, I would rather have something sexier but it should do the job, and will fit anything and everything.

I would like to learn more about the software and remote stuff. Seems I have a lot of choices to make on the hardware front.
Edited by angrysasquatch - 5/20/11 at 7:03pm
    
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post #4 of 12
For the software I would recommend XBMC or WMC, both are pretty simple to use. I feel like XBMC gives more control, but I only tried out WMC for a day or so.

For the hardware, you could try going for a case that already has a PSU included, that will save you about $50 and you'll be fine as long as you don't try to stick a high end GPU and CPU in it. Also you could try 2GB of ram at first, -$20. Integrated GPU will be fine for just an HTPC, a GT430/HD6450 would be helpful for DXVA or GPU renderers such as madVR (best quality).

Here's a build I was looking at for later on. Toss in a remote, another hard drive/larger one for storage and you should be good to go.

http://secure.newegg.com/WishList/Pu...umber=17128886

Also, is there a reason you want optical audio (like your receiver doesn't handle HDMI?) because with that you can only get 5.1/7.1 using lossy codecs while with HDMI you can do DTS-HD MA, TrueHD and LPCM.
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post #5 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by sybia123 View Post
Also, is there a reason you want optical audio (like your receiver doesn't handle HDMI?) because with that you can only get 5.1/7.1 using lossy codecs while with HDMI you can do DTS-HD MA, TrueHD and LPCM.
Well, DTS-HD MA and TrueHD only matters if you have HD-DVD/Blu-ray sources.

The default Windows Media Center interface isn't very good. However, if you install add-ons such as Media Browser or MyMovies, it greatly improves the experience. I've found Media Browser to be much easier to set-up compared to XBMC - pretty much set it and forget it. Its metadata retrieval algorithm also appears to be better compared to XBMC's. At least it handled my anime way better than XBMC.
  • Case: Apex DM-387 w/275W PSU (microATX) or Cooler Master Elite 360 w/350W PSU (low-profile ATX), $50
  • MB: Biostar A880G+, $55
  • CPU: AMD Athlon II X2 250 3.0 GHz, $61
  • RAM: cheapest 1.5V 2GB DDR3 you can find, $20
  • HDD: 500GB~2TB HDD on sale, $40~80
  • TOTAL: $226~266

Alas, dunno how the above will cost Canadian.
Edited by rui-no-onna - 5/20/11 at 7:31pm
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post #6 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by rui-no-onna View Post
Well, DTS-HD MA and TrueHD only matters if you have HD-DVD/Blu-ray sources.
Oh yeah, forgot about that
Quote:
Originally Posted by rui-no-onna View Post
The default Windows Media Center interface isn't very good. However, if you install add-ons such as Media Browser or MyMovies, it greatly improves the experience. I've found Media Browser to be much easier to set-up compared to XBMC - pretty much set it and forget it. Its metadata retrieval algorithm also appears to be better compared to XBMC's. At least it handled my anime way better than XBMC.
Yeah, I forgot to mention MyMovies. I use that to gather metadata for XBMC Has to be the best way to organize movies out there. As for skins for XBMC, Alaska Revisited is pretty awesome.
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post #7 of 12
For $200, you won't build a gaming computer, so I'll speak in strict HTPC sense.

Any modern computer can handle 1080p decoding just fine - especially since your parents will be essentially running just 1 application.

CPU - Use any dual-core.
Motherboard - Don't cheap out too much with this, get a motherboard with decent onboard sound (it's usually Realtek). And no, the sound is just fine, and their drivers work better than Creative's.
RAM - At least 2GB
GPU - You can actually use onboard for this, as long as it's a modern chipset (Core 2 Duo era and on). EDIT: I just read you have a spare 4870. Sure, stick that in.
HD - A single drive is fine
Case - if you need to put your 4870, the nMediaPC 6000B might fit it (you might need to break out the dremel though). It looks great, but yes, it is flimsy.
Connectivity - This is a little tricky depending on your set up. If you need to put audio over HDMI, you need to make sure your motherboard (or GPU) supports it. If you're putting audio over optical instead, just check the motherboard if it has that output. Also, check what your sound system can decode - if it's an older system that only supports, for example, AC3, you'll want AC3 Filter.

Also note since it's a HTPC, you probably want to cool it as passively as possible (large aftermarket heatsinks, large low-RPM fans).

I also have a work log of my own HTPC, but since I posted it on a "rival" forum, I can't link it to you here. PM me if you want to see it.
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post #8 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by bentrinh View Post
This is a little tricky depending on your set up. If you need to put audio over HDMI, you need to make sure your motherboard (or GPU) supports it.
Well, the HD 4870 can take care of that, too.
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post #9 of 12
Why aren't you allowed to post links to "rival forums" here? What, are we in China?
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post #10 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by sybia123 View Post
Oh yeah, forgot about that

Yeah, I forgot to mention MyMovies. I use that to gather metadata for XBMC Has to be the best way to organize movies out there. As for skins for XBMC, Alaska Revisited is pretty awesome.
is mymovies a paid app?
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